The US Navy has awarded Austal a $230.5 million contract for the construction of the 16th Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport (EPF) ship.
EPF 16 will be the third ship in its class constructed in a “Flight II” configuration, which has enhanced medical and aviation capabilities.
While not much is known about the Flight II ships, Austal and the US Navy earlier revealed they would introduce a combined forward resuscitative care capability with a limited intensive care unit and medical ward, while maintaining most of the original requirements of the ship. Flight II EPFs will be able to stabilize postsurgical cases for evacuation without the requirement to first route them through a higher facility.
Other improvements will include habitability modifications, improved small boat handling, as well as the capability to operate the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.
The US branch of the Australian shipbuilder has so far delivered twelve Flight I EPF ships to the navy since 2012. It is currently constructing EPFs 13, 14 and 15 at the company’s shipyard in Mobile, Alabama.
EPF 13 is being developed as a prototype for autonomous operations, while EPF 14 and 15 were redesigned to deliver greater medical capability and capacity.
Austal CEO Paddy Gregg said the contract for another EPF with enhanced medical capabilities highlighted both the success of the high-speed vessel platform and its flexibility to deliver various mission profiles.
“Austal’s Flight II EPF’s will further enhance the US Navy’s capability and enable a fast response with expanded medical support facilities available for any mission or theater of operation,” Gregg said.
Also referred to as the Spearhead-class, the EPF ships have been purchased gradually by the navy since 2008, and have had few problems entering service. One of the major issues identified by government testers was the ships’ inability to transport goods at the design speed and capacity. The ships were initially supposed to be capable of carrying 1.2 million pounds of cargo for 1,200 nautical miles at 35 knots, or about 40 miles per hour. However, a 2018 report from the Defense Department Inspector General revealed that the ships could transport the 1.2 million pounds of cargo for 769 nautical miles, and that at a slower speed. Responding to the report, the navy said it was already working on addressing the issues.
Spearhead-class ships are capable of interfacing with roll-on/roll-off discharge facilities, as well as on/off-loading vehicles such as a fully combat-loaded Abrams main battle tank.
Construction of EPF 16 will start later this year with delivery projected for 2025. In addition to EPFs 13, 14 and 15 currently in production, Austal USA is currently constructing the Independence-variant Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) 32, 34 and 36; and is under contract for LCS 38.